Lori Davidson, director of the Missoula Housing Authority (MHA), has been watching—and wincing—as lawmakers in Washington, D.C., take a hacksaw to the federal budget. Most disconcerting to Davidson is President Obama's proposed 7.5 percent, or $300 million, cut to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which gives some 1,200 communities across the country grants to fund a wide range of needs including affordable housing.
In recent years MHA has been among Missoula's top recipients of CDBG grants, crucial to the development of affordable housing around town. In fact, Davidson says two of the agency's more prominent developments, the Russell Square Apartments and the Garden District, wouldn't have been possible without the allocations. They're especially important in Montana, Davidson says, because the state lacks alternative affordable housing funding sources like housing trust funds or low income housing tax credits.
"In a state like Montana, where you have a small tax base, things like CDBG and HOME [a federal affordable housing program that works in conjunction with CDBG] are more important than they are in other places, I think, because they are the only sources we have," Davidson says. "So it's a critical source of funding."
The heads of many other nonprofits around town would say the same. This year alone, Missoula will dole out about $700,000 in CDBG grants to various organizations, including Partnership Health Center, YWCA of Missoula, Garden City Harvest, Missoula Food Bank, homeWORD and Missoula Aging Services.
Mike Barton, director of the Missoula City-County Office of Planning and Grants, says CDBG dollars dwindled gradually under the Bush administration, but the Obama administration's proposal marks the steepest cut yet.
"If you look at it over time, it will amount to a 20 percent cut," Barton says.
And that's the best-case scenario. House Republicans are pushing to cut the roughly $4 billion the government gave out in CBDG grants last year much more drastically—by 62 percent.
"If the House has its way we wouldn't just be hunting with spears," quips Barton, referring to the Republican proposal before the Montana Legislature that would allow spear hunting, "we'd be doing line drawings in caves, too."